WHAT REMAINS TO BE DISCOVERED: The Future of Science by John Maddox


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Despite some smug statements to the contrary, the work of science is far from complete; here a former editor of Nature takes a look at the uncharted territory ahead. Any honest attempt to deal with this subject--and Maddox is quite honest--must recognize that in many cases we have no idea what questions the future will be trying to answer. Maddox illustrates this point in his introduction, deftly summarizing four centuries of scientific history to show how each new era explored problems its predecessors couldn't have foreseen. He then takes a look ahead in three broad areas of science, under the headings ""matter"" (i.e. physics), ""life"" (biology), and ""our world"" (a catchall). Skeptical of attempts to create a ""theory of everything,"" Maddox foresees a ""new physics,"" growing from some breakthrough we cannot predict. Meanwhile, puzzles abound: either the universe as a whole is younger than some of its stars or some extremely sophisticated measurements of those ages are flat wrong. The tree nature of quasars remains undiscovered, as does the nature and location of the ""dark matter"" that theory demands to keep galaxies from flying apart. At the other end of the scale, a complete theory of the building blocks of matter seems no closer now than it did a century ago, despite enormous progress. The Higgs boson, a subatomic particle the existence of which is vital to current theory, eludes detection. And gravitation stubbornly resists explanation in terms of quantum theory. In the life sciences, there is still no accepted explanation of how life originated. Nor, despite growing confidence that it must be so, is there definitive evidence of life beyond Earth. Maddox gives a remarkably clear picture of current science--and of the cutting edge. Wide-ranging, clearly written, and provocative. A must-read for students of science.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1998
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Free Press